Shilpa Phadke gave up her job as VP with a telecom company to become health-food entrepreneur. Shilpa finished 2nd in her age category in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) and qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon.
Taru Mateti, a senior IT professional, rediscovered the joy of running and competing in her late forties. Taru boasts of 26 podium finishes in less than 3 years of running in events across India.
Kavitha Reddy a homemaker who can leave most people half her age doubled over and fighting dizziness if they try to keep pace with her. Kavitha finished a smashing 2015-16 running season with 1st position in her age category at the Sriram Properties Bengaluru Marathon and a personal best timing at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM).
These ladies run a lot and they run fast.
Apart from being ace runners Kavitha, Shilpa and Taru are very friendly souls. They readily agreed to my request of a nice long chat about themselves and challenges faced by female runners in India.
Mayur: Thank you for speaking with me on behalf of sportsjoy.in. The attempt of this conversation is to understand how you work and the the challenges you face as serious endurance athletes.
To start with, did you play any sports at school or college level? Did you represent your school or college at any level?
Taru: I didn’t play any sport during my younger days. I was more of the studying and stage activities kinds (debates, plays, extempore speeches, elocution). Once when there were no other players around I was sent off to represent my Kendriya Vidyalaya school in a district level Table-Tennis tournament. I promptly lost 2-21, 2-21 (laughs).
Kavitha: No, nothing serious for me. Just a casual sports period in school, that’s it.
Shilpa: Yes I played Basketball in school and college. I represented Madhya Pradesh in the regional events and played for Wadia College in Inter-collegiate games.
Mayur: Shilpa, did you lose the thread of fitness after you left college, especially when you were raising a family?
Shilpa: No, I didn’t lose touch completely. The time dedicated to sports activities was restricted but I remained active to keep myself fit. I have always been particular about fitness (smiles).
Mayur: Taru and Kavitha, at what age did you became more focused on athletic endeavors?
Kavitha: I started running in September 2013 but took it up seriously only after April 2014.
Taru: After getting married, I dabbled with badminton for sometime followed by gym and aerobics classes. Serious athletics was only after I turned 49.
Mayur: Do you train specifically for an event? Which is to say is your training while preparing for an event like SCMM substantially different from regular training?
Taru: Yes and no. For half marathons, there is no no specific training. For a full marathon, the Sunday runs are much longer and scale up as the event date draws closer. Having said that, in preparation for the 50km Ultra that I ran in Nov 2015, my longest run was only 24km! Besides, I don’t differentiate in preparation based on event. It is a similar training plan I follow for Mumbai, Bangalore or Hyderabad marathons.
Shilpa: Honestly speaking, I started training for events very recently. Earlier, event or not, I simply stuck to my weekly routine; 2 days cycling, 1 day running, 1 day swimming and gym for 3 days. Only now do I feel the need to train specifically for an event. Of course for a full marathon, as Taru said, a plan with gradual scaling of distance is required.
Mayur: Oh my God Shilpa, did you really qualify for Boston by running only once a week?
Shilpa: Well, the year I qualified for Boston, I was running thrice a week for over 3 months. But yes, in general I run less. I don’t like running too much (Mayur rolls his eyes!)
Kavitha: Yes, training for a full marathon is definitely far more intense and different from a half marathon. The mileage required is much higher.
Mayur: So can u describe what your training week for a full marathon looks like?
Taru: For me it is 2-3 days of running in the week and 1-2 days strength training. Sundays are reserved for the long run. An occasional cycling ride is thrown to replace strength training. The week day runs are about 10km. Sunday runs go up from 18km to 35km.
Shilpa: This is my plan for for the next SCMM in Jan 2017 – 1 day 10K, 2 days cycling, 2 days gym, alternate weekend long run starting from 12km and going up to 35km a few weeks before the event. I can safely say that from Oct 2016 onwards every weekend would involve a long run.
Kavitha: For a full marathon, I run 4 days a week with one Tempo run, one day long run, one day of strength training, two day gym, and two days of yoga in the evening.
Mayur: Phew! Your week has 9 days Kavitha?
(all Ladies laugh at this witticism)
Mayur: We see a lot of running trainers coming up in Pune. Do you train with a trainer for any of your events? Does it help?
Taru: In my view, training with the right mentor helps. A running novice can feel lost in the initial days of preparation. I have been lucky to train with Jeetu (Jeetendran Nair of FreeRunners). He helped correct my running form and synchronize my breathing. He helps me recognize junk miles and most importantly he has taught me the benefit of running without a watch!
Shilpa: I don’t have a trainer, but I do have a training partner or buddy if you will. He is good at calculations and I only have to pace with him. it definitely helps to have a structured plan. If you do not have an understanding or patience of going through pace and distance calculations and have no idea how to build up a training, then you need a Guru. Another option is to download training plans available on the Internet.
Kavitha: I used to train with my group for full-marathons and my long runs were really long. At times I did 42km in practice itself! For SCMM 2016 preparation, I enrolled with Atul Godbole of Motiv8. This time my longest run was only 28km and it helped me recover soon and perform well.
A major benefit of having a trainer is that you don’t have to analyze too much, the trainer does it for you. Of course, you will need to trust your trainer and his plan. Initially, I was uncertain about Atul’s training methods. As I began doing the prescribed tempo runs I began to realize the benefits of his plan. It was a stress-free training program and I ran the SCMM 2016 full marathon in my personal best timing. So training with Atul worked perfectly well for me.
Mayur: The perception of safety is different for men and women. As women training for full marathons do you ever feel the need to have a running buddy?
Taru: I have trained alone for 2 of my 5 full marathons. My runs are mostly self-supported in 11km loops from Vishrantwadi going around Yerwada. I guess I am a pretty non-descript person or maybe the area is safe. No issues for me, so far.
Shilpa: I have run alone a few times and I have never felt unsafe. I prefer to run with my partner but that is more because it’s boring to run alone for such a long time.
Kavitha: I don’t like running alone. But I don’t think it has anything to do with safety, more about preference I guess.
Mayur: The other issue is hygiene. Are the hygiene facilities for women adequate at racing events in India?
Shilpa (instantaneous response): Not really. Our own Pune University where most people go for runs and walks has no toilets that are open in the mornings.There is one toilet on the back side of the University, which is invariable in an awful state.
Running events usually have adequate ladies toilets. Cleanliness though is not up to the mark. In general, ladies toilets are clearly inadequate in public places, runners or non-runners.
Taru: Washrooms are always a concern, especially the long queues outside them at events. For my regular runs, I have identified some public toilets along my routes. They are usually filthy but then there is no choice.
Kavitha: I agree with Shilpa about toilet cleanliness. You can’t, however, blame the organizers because the runners themselves dirty it. Personally I avoid using public toilets to the extent possible.
Mayur: Talk to me about the best race you have run till date.
Taru: Pune Ultra 50km run in November last year was an amazing event. I ran with Jeetu, my mentor. That run embodied the true spirit that is FreeRunners. I made it well before cut-off which was just the icing on the cake. It was a dream come true.
Shilpa: For me it has to be PUNE RUNNING‘s PRBM 2014 where I drove home my winner’s prize, the Vespa scooter. I was trailing another girl till well past the halfway mark but the vision of going home with the shiny new ride kept me going. My target time for the half marathon was 1 hour 45 minutes and I crossed the finish line in 1:44:20! Anand Hatwalne paced me on that day and I ran with some of the best runners in Pune.
Kavitha: For me it would Bengaluru Marathon 2015. Everything just fell in place for that race. To see my dear husband Deepak cheer me on as I crossed the finish line was memorable. And I stood first in my category!
Mayur: Kavitha mentioning her husband gives me a neat link to the next question. Research has shown that the health and fitness level of a woman has an impact on that of her entire family. So let me ask you this, did your spouse, children or siblings take to fitness after you ladies started burning the tracks?
Taru: Absolutely yes in my case. Six months after I started running, my husband joined me. We became more aware and conscious about health. We got some tests done that we hadn’t bothered about earlier and found deficiencies to fix. We do strength training together. These days we are focusing a lot on eating healthy.
Kavitha: Once you get into running, you make a conscious change in your diet and other aspects of your lifestyle. This influences the family too. My younger son did a few 10km runs and is a regular cyclist. I am still trying to get the elder son and Deepak (Chuckles) to start.
Shilpa: I have always been an outdoor person so there were no major changes at home. My husband started cycling and running after I did. My son completed his first half marathon at SCMM this year in 1 hour 36 minutes.
Mayur: 1:36 for a HM? A chip of the old block eh?
Shilpa: Don’t you dare say old! (Laughter all round)
Mayur: To sum up what would you like to advice women, especially younger women? We see very few of them in amateur running in the age group of 25 to 35. So what message would be your message to them?
Taru: Take out an hour everyday for yourself and you will be happy doing all the other things during the day. Running is a good activity to devote time to because you can do it anytime, anywhere. Besides health benefits, you make good friends too!
Kavitha: I understand it is a little difficult for 25 or 30 year old women as they have many things occupying their time and mind like studies, marriage, kids etc. But nothing is impossible. You should give yourself one hour which would be your ME TIME. Trust me, you will love it and will never look back. It will help you deal better with your life and bring in the required equilibrium.
Shilpa: Oh my God, I hate this question because I know I am expected to sugar-coat the answer. I feel that generally women care more about how they look; slim and all. There isn’t much thought given to fitness and health. Understood that 25 to 35 year olds have a busy time in life, but one can always be a little disciplined and organized and can take up any activity of interest. Physical fitness will give you a sense of confidence and well-being, which is vital to your professional career and everyday life.
Mayur: Thank you ladies. It was very nice chatting to you. May you win many more races and continue to inspire more and more women. Thank you.
Mayur Didolkar is an avid tennis follower, a marathon runner and a novelist
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